I’m doing a radio series for SBS Australia, sharing my experiences of travelling India as a solo female backpacker.
In this second episode I share a surprising encounter with the Indian authorities which occurred during my recent visit to Spiti Valley with SBS Hindi channel host Harita Mehta.
You can read the transcript below!
This episode was aired on SBS Hindi on November 8th 2017 and can be viewed in full here.
I would like to share an experience I had recently with an Indian police officer.
I haven’t had many encounters with police officers during my time in India, only with visa registration and passport checks when I’ve been trekking, but I know people who have, and unfortunately the experiences shared haven’t been too positive.
People are more likely to share negative experiences which doesn’t do well for India’s police department, sp when encounters happen that go against this reputation, I believe that they should be told and credit given to the individuals involved.
A few weeks ago I went to Spiti Valley for the second time. The first time I visited was last year and I spent 10 days there, a wonderful 10 days. I visited Kaza, Dhankar, Tabo and Pin Valley and encountered no problems as I moved around.
Many villages in Spiti Valley reside close to the Indo-Tibetan border and so innerline permits are required by foreign nationals and these are checked in various locations by India’s border police.
When I visited last year the villages that I visited didn’t require a permit to enter as it was only beyond Tabo where permits were necessary. I made the mistake of assuming that this was still the case and I got on the bus at Kaza with plans to travel to Tabo.
Approximately 25km from Tabo the bus stopped and the driver ordered all foreign nationals to disembark the bus and show their permits to the border police official. I thought it was fine as I was only going to Tabo but I got a little worried when I saw the French traveller in front of me with a permit.
I handed the officer my passport and he took down my details. Then he asked for my permit. I said sorry sir I don’t have one, I’m only going to Tabo. He said, ‘sorry ma’am you can’t go.’
I told him I went last year without any problem and he told me that security had been tightened as a month prior some foreign nationals were caught trying to cross the border into Tibet. I was annoyed because there was no information about this anywhere. No notices about permit requirements in Kaza and no locals I had spoken to in Kaza about my travel plans had mentioned permits to me (yes I should have done my research, I’ve learnt my lesson.)
So I climb back on the bus to get my backpack and sit on the side of the road, watching as the bus pulls off. I’m use to my travel plans in India changing suddenly for all manners of reasons but what worried me was the fact that there is very limited public transport servicing this region of India and I had no idea when the next bus would be coming along, if any.
I really needed the toilet too and hadn’t eaten breakfast yet so I asked the officer if there was a guest house or restaurant nearby. He pointed one out to me about 500m down the street. As I went to pull my big backpack onto my back he told me to leave it with him, he’ll look after it.
I asked in the guesthouse how I could get to Dhankar, the nearest village. They said no buses were going and the only chance I had of reaching is to hitchhike a ride with a local. The owner pointed out one fellow to me and said he was driving his car to Dhankar shortly so I asked this fellow if he wouldn’t mind if I joined him. He told me though that this was not possible because if he gets caught by a local officer then he will be asked to pay a fine.
My only other option was to walk with by heavy bag about 8km, uphill. An option I really wasn’t keen on taking.
I went back to the officer to get my bag. And when I arrived he asked me what I planned to do and I said walk to Dhankar. As I told him this the local fellow drove past and the officer stopped him. They exchanged words and I was told that the driver would take me to Dhankar no problem.
The officer helped me load my bag into the car and off I went to Dhankar.
I wish I got the officers name.
Travelling can be exhausting and frustrating so these small acts of kindness really help out a lot. I think this officer sets a standard for others. You can still do your job and carry out your duties and be kind. It’s not one or the other. It’s simple acts of humanity that go a long way, it doesn’t have to be anything grand.